On Manual Effort

I’ve recently started hand washing my clothes, as is the fashion nowadays. Actually, I’ve just lost access to my washing machine and I’m too lazy to bring my clothes to a laundromat. Anyway, washing clothes by hand is a massive pain in the ass. I remember reading about how one of the only jobs Chinese laborers could get in America during the gold rush was doing laundry. I didn’t really understand the impact of this before having to do my own laundry, but hand washing clothes requires massive effort to do by hand. It’s incredibly energy intensive, backbreaking work.

To wash you clothes, you fill a tub of water with some amount of detergent. You then dump your clothing in the tub. You have to really mix up your clothing with the detergent water to get the dirt out, which requires constant agitation in the form of scrubbing. Then when you drain the water, you have to rinse out the soap from the clothes. This step is the most labor intensive part of the process. It’s similar to the previous step in that you have to mix up the new water with the clothing to remove the detergent, but you have to be very thorough in this step to remove the detergent. If you aren’t thorough enough, your clothes will be stiff and starchy after you dry them. So after you scrub out the soap, you have to squeeze out the water for each article of clothing. It’s not so bad the first time you do it, but it’s really tiring to do this for more than a handful of shirts or whatever. After you squeeze out the water, you’re pretty much done, though. Just hang up your clothes somewhere with a breeze to dry them.

Having washed clothes by hand, I really appreciate the invention of washing machine much more now. Automation of manual effort is something that I can take for granted, but it’s pretty amazing to think that these tasks being automated took up a majority of people’s time even less than a generation ago. I can dump a load in the wash and only have to retrieve it when it’s done, whereas if I were to do the same load by hand, it would take an hour or more of constant work on my part to get it done. Technology really is impressive in some aspects.

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